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Jena University Hospital Prescribes RFID to Reduce Medication Errors

The German hospital is beginning a pilot designed to track individual antibiotic prescriptions from the pharmacy to the patient.
By Rhea Wessel
Instead, the hospital opted to utilize handheld and fixed RFID interrogators, relying on robots that push supplies around the hospital in trolleys to transport the drugs from the pharmacy to the ICU.

Jena's doctors submit patient prescriptions into the hospital's electronic prescriptions system, implemented nine years ago in an effort to reduce medication errors. The in-house pharmacists access the prescriptions via computer, then prepare each patient's correct medication dosage. With the new system, pharmacists will affix RFID tags, encoded using a Zebra printer, to each sealed packet of an individual dose of medication or bottle of medicine. The packets and bottles will then be put into plastic containers, which will also be tagged.

Once a container is full, all the tags (both on individual prescriptions and on the container) will be read by a fixed interrogator provided by Deister Electronic. The reader will document the prescriptions, exact pill counts, intended patients and other details in the patient information database. The containers will be loaded into a trolley (also tagged), and a pharmaceutical assistant will use a handheld interrogator made by Datalogic to read the tags applied on the containers and the trolley. The patient information database will then be updated with the time of departure for all medications.

When the antibiotics arrive at the ICU, nurses will use handheld readers to scan the trolleys once more, documenting the medications' arrival. The nurses will then unload the containers and bring the appropriate medications to the patients' beds. At bedside, nurses will use the handheld scanners to read the RFID tags on their employee ID badges, as well as the tag on each dose of medication and the patient's RFID-enabled wristband. All the tags' unique identification numbers will be cross-checked in the hospital's patient information system to ensure the nurses administer the correct medicine to the right patient at the proper time. The system will then be updated to show that the antibiotics have been administered.

As the pilot gets underway, Jena University Hospital hopes it will better understand how well RFID technology can work within the hospital's workflow. "We are curious to see how the new system will be accepted by nurses," Specht says, "but we are very optimistic after the positive pretests with our head nurse."

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